Deep into the backwoods of Georgia, four friends, all businessmen from Atlanta, take on an adventure. With their canoes and can-do attitude, the men paddle down a wild river, soon to be tamed by a man-made dam. They maneuver through troubled waters, hunt with bow and arrows, and bicker once in awhile. The male bonding is so far so good until the river becomes crooked. The men drift towards a predicament where (gulp!) there can be no paddling back.

Nominated for three Academy Awards, Deliverance builds its story on a theme of “man versus wild.” Here are men ready to tackle nature, but discount the fact they’re playing on nature’s turf. Indeed, we suspect they’re the underdogs the moment they arrive. They drive through the rugged roads and meet hillbillies who seems to be still living in the Great Depression. No doubt these mentally weary locals are proof of nature’s hold on men.

Things get more interesting as the city slickers slide down the river. The rush of waters triggers a fun adrenaline rush. We also learn about the guys as two personalities emerge. Chest-baring Lewis (a well-cast Burt Reynolds) is the macho head and the causal Ed (Jon Voight) is the nice guy with the nice family. The two pals have a nice rapport although we sense a buried tension.

Then the movie arrives at its pivotal scene, which is saturated with danger, abomination, and moral ambiguity. Director John Boorman handles the prolonged scene with a dose of intensity and the actors are commendable in playing out the tricky situation. I was so hooked. But it turns out the scene was only a bait. After this manly movie climaxes, it withers, flops, and dozes off.

I was scratching my head. Deliverance had the momentum for a more riveting conclusion. I am sure the story could have splashed more suspense or raised the stakes a little higher. Rather, the third act goes for a more visually poetic route (with striking images of a moving church, a dug-up cemetery, and drowning trees). Upon closer inspection, the plot actually concurs with the water current. Once the river slows and gives way to the stillness of the lake, the movie also stalls. Unfortunately, this is a letdown on the entertainment factor. Because of the last act, the movie feels incomplete, primitive, and undeveloped. If “Deliverance” is a fish, I’d throw it back in the river.

Grade: B+

Jon Voight
Burt Reynolds
Ned Beatty
Ronny Cox
Based on the novel by
James Dickey
Written by
James Dickey
Directed by
John Boorman
Rated R

de·liv·er·ance (dĭ-lĭv’ər-əns, -lĭv’rəns) n.
1. The act of delivering or the condition of being delivered.
2. Rescue from bondage or danger.
3. A publicly expressed opinion or judgment, such as the verdict of a jury.